Left – Ian Michael, Clarence Ryan and Rory O'Keeffe. Cover – Sophia Forrest and Maitland Schnaars. Photos – Daniel J Grant
What if your life was so bleak that you found light where only others found darkness? What if the passage into adulthood and your first experience of love was driven not by joy and romance, but by a desperate need for acceptance and protection?
These questions define the experience of our protagonist in Black Swan State Theatre Company’s last production for 2017, Let the Right One In. It is based on a 2004 novel written by Swedish novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist. It was adapted for stage premiering in 2013 and later a film was released in 2010.
This play marks Black Swans Artistic Director Clare Watson’s directional debut. Her choice of production is unusual and refreshing - it is clear that a great deal of passion has gone into this show.
In a twist of fate, Watson’s opening night happened to fall on a historical day for Australia as the country voted yes to gay marriage. This seems a poignant day to bring this play to the stage – at its heart it discusses two main themes – overcoming bullying and the right to equality and to love whatever its form.
The play is set in Blackeberg, Stockholm a relatively new suburb with no real history. It is known for its expressionless apartment buildings, dark forest, snowy winters and grisly unexplained murders.
Vulnerable locals passing through the forest at night find themselves strung up feet first from the trees, their throats cut and their blood draining from their bodies like a slaughtered pig.
The Police issue warnings on the nightly news, urging locals to stay away from the forest and to speak up about anything suspicious they may have seen, for “evil only needs silence.”
Against the backdrop of a town living in fear, a mother pleads with her 12-year- old son Oskar (Ian Michael) to stay close by for she couldn’t live if he were to die. Oskar’s father has left the family for another man and his mother tries to sooth her aching heart with alcohol and cigarettes. She pushes her own insecurities on her son, suffocating him and verging on an incestuous relationship.
At school, Oskar’s plight is no better and he is tormented daily by two bullies calling him little piggy and forcing him to squeal before inflicting their punishments.
One night Oskar meets a young girl who has moved into the apartment next door. Eli (Sophia Forrest) is slight, fragile-looking, surprisingly strong and nimble, but she smells “funny” like Oskar’s old dog when it was wet.
Eli becomes Oskar’s confidant and fun sidekick. She encourages him to stand up to his bullies, to fight back, to inflict harder and stronger punishment than they do. But Eli is no ordinary girl in fact she isn’t a girl at all, she’s a vampire.
Black Swan’s set is striking and makes excellent use of the space – a grim concrete apartment block reaches the full height and width of the stage. It is dark and dominating just like the presence of the unseen monster that takes the lives of its inhabitants.
Each cell within the apartment block forms its own individual stage and sliding doors open and shut as characters perform their scenes. Clever lighting casts barren trees trunks and falling snow onto the stage. The cold visual scenery combined with the gruesome murder scenes combine to cause the audience to shiver. The set serves another purpose – it resembles a giant Rubix cube which is the puzzle that connects Oskar and Eli and starts their friendship.
To be commended is the casting of Michael and Forrest. Both are believable and loveable despite their obvious flaws. Michael’s height disadvantage beside the bullies worked well and though obviously much older, his portrayal of an innocent and awkward young man is convincing. Forrest, who only graduated from WAAPA last year, shows she is a force to be reckoned with. The skill with which she leaps onto her victims is captivating, she shows incredibly dexterity. As she feeds on her victims her movements are erotic and take on a frenzied sexual nature.
The technical aspects of the production were impressive and the show made good use of music and lighting. I did feel that the show dragged at some points and would have benefitted from a short interval.
Though Let the Right One In is at its heart a love story, it is certainly not your usual romantic comedy. The relationship of the lead characters is one of convenience and an overriding need for self-preservation.
Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
Let the Right One In
by Jack Thorne | based on a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Director Clare Watson
Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre | State Theatre Centre of WA
Dates: N/A – N/A
Bookings: 1300 795 012 | www.ticketek.com.au